Saturday, December 14, 2013

Reaction to gun violence at Arapahoe High School in Colorado

This morning I am reflecting on the gun violence that occurred at Arapahoe High School in Colorado yesterday. As many of you know my home is in Colorado. Also most of my work involving the Culture of Care and Restorative Justice is occurring in Aurora Public Schools. This school district is also located in the Denver Metropolitan Area, just as Arapahoe High School is. I suggest that there are two lessons we have learned from creating a Culture of Care at Hinkley High School that can help us create safe and peaceful schools.
First, we need to provide a safe place for students to express their emotions, particularly when they are angry. At present we do not provide this safe place. At Hinkley this safe place occurs in the talking circles that occur regularly in classrooms and throughout the school.
Second, we need to build the capacity of students to respond to problems and conflict non violently. At Hinkley students are learning there are peaceful alternatives to responding to wrongdoing and conflict with violence.
If schools adopt restorative justice practices in the classroom as a basis for creating a culture of care, these schools will be peaceful and safe.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gallup poll results support Culture of Care

A recent Gallup poll asked participants to call to mind the name of their best teacher. Then they were asked to think of the one word that best described that teacher. What do you suppose was the most common descriptor?


Nice try, but guess again.

The most common word to describe the best teachers was… caring.

Uh oh. Caring is one of those fuzzy, cuddly terms that makes some people – at least guys like me – squirm a bit. I squirm because caring is a word that lays a claim on me. A person can be brilliant, demanding or passionate about their work; but none of those words requires attentiveness to the needs, hopes, and fears of the people around me. But caring lays claim to my time, energy, and heart. And as any teacher – or parent – worth her salt can tell you, caring looks a little different for each recipient.

For the eager, caring looks like a challenge.
For the lazy, a prod.
For the procrastinator, a deadline.
For the panicked, an extension.
For the discouraged, a pep talk.
For the lonely and ignored, an ear.
For the anxious, perspective.
For the proud, gentle questions that identify insecurities and instill self-awareness and a desire for support.
For the slower learner, a lunch hour lost – never lost, just repurposed – to reteach.
For the confused and fearful, a voice of encouragement, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A New York Times article

The New York Times, 11/13/13 – Emerging research links childhood trauma to students’ attendance, behavior, academics, and health, and underscores the counterproductive effects of punitive school discipline approaches.

Monday, November 25, 2013

RJ article in Christian Science Monitor

Christian Science Monitor

Is 'zero tolerance' is bad for education?
Zero-tolerance policies have become commonplace in American schools, however some, including the Pennsylvania ACLU, say that schools are taking zero tolerance too far.

By James Norton, Contributing blogger / November 15, 2013

Critics of 'zero tolerance' say the policy leaves little room for alternative conflict resolution, such as restorative justice. Here, several educators and administrators participate in a Restorative Justice training session in Oakland, Calif., March 14.

Does a "zero-tolerance" approach to school discipline keep students safer or disrupt the educational process? The answer is, of course, complicated, but a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania [PDF of report here] presents an argument that the approach has sprawled greatly from its original anti-gun goals and that the impact has largely been to push students out of the classroom.

James Norton got his professional start at the Monitor as an online news producer, before moving over to edit international news during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since leaving the Monitor in 2004, he has worked as a radio producer, author, and food blogger.

Zero tolerance was introduced in Pennsylvania in the 1990s, and, based on a 1995 state law, it required the expulsion of students found possessing a (broadly defined) "weapon."

But as the study goes on to note:

In Pennsylvania, as around the nation, zero tolerance took on a life of its own. Particularly over the last 15 years, it infected the culture of schools so that an even broader range of behaviors and conflicts, like school uniform violations or talking back to adults, became the basis for removal from school, even when removal was not required by law."

Sacrificed on the altar of order in schools: things like due process, conflict resolution, and the exploration of solutions to prevent future conflicts. And alternative discipline systems that focus on principles like restorative justice are sidelined as well; there's no opportunity to work through a collaborative process when mandatory suspensions are the default answer to many or most problems.

An Education Week story about the report illuminated the sheer number of suspensions in the system:

Pennsylvania school leaders issued an average of 10.1 suspensions for every 100 students during the 2011-2012 school year, the report says. The York City School District, which had the highest suspension rate in the state that year, issued 91 suspensions for every 100 students, the report says. Some students may have been suspended multiple times.

Under zero-tolerance policies, students in various states have faced suspension or expulsion for offenses ranging from playing with airsoft guns in their own yards, crafting a gun shape from a Pop Tart, and making gun hand gestures.

In aggregate, the policies are a parallel to the criminal justice system and its 1990s/early '00s rush toward mandatory minimum sentences. Both zero tolerance and mandatory minimums take discretion away from the authorities on hand to enforce rules, and both hand down sometimes draconian sentences that inflict harm far out of proportion to the offense in question, largely to satisfy a broad public desire to "get tough" on a specific problem.

While there's no getting around the fact that there is a guns-in-schools problem in America and a discipline-in-schools problem in many districts, evidence suggests that a broad-brush zero-tolerance approach to anything often causes more problems than it resolves; treating students like prisoners may do more to harm education than it does to save it. In fact, treating prisoners like prisoners are currently treated may cause more problems than it solves, but that's another series of studies entirely.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The School Culture Must Be Changed to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

In my experience I find that we will not be able to end the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly for ethnically diverse students, unless we change the culture of the school. this is why I developed and keep refining the theory of a Culture of Care in Schools.

What I find is that training teaching how to use restorative justice strategies does not create the change in schools that is needed to end the school-to-prison pipeline. In order to improve achievement and discipline outcomes for ethnically diverse students the culture of the school has to be transformed to be culturally responsive.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

School to Prison Pipeline

The School to Prison Pipeline appears to now be coming to the attention of grant funders. I will be meeting with a group in Denver on Tuesday, November 19th, to discuss this topic. this issue has been the basis for my involvement in restorative justice since the 1990s. I was working at that time as a court reporter in the district court where I live. for several years I had been concerned about the rising number of juveniles, particularly who were ethnically diverse, who were appearing in court. I was also concerned with how the punishment for these juveniles was becoming more severe.

At about the same time I learned about restorative justice in New Zealand and became fascinated with the idea. That fascination turned into a passion and has become my life's work.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Caring teachers

One of the things I generally say when I talk about the Culture of Care is that we are not lacking caring teachers. What we are lacking is systems that support caring teachers.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Restorative Justice in Schools Professional Development Training

Restorative Justice in a School or School District:
Using Restorative Practices to Support a Culture of Care

Professional Development Training Proposal
Prepared by Dr. Tom Cavanagh

Executive Summary
This proposal is based on the idea that restorative justice practices can be used in schools, particularly in classrooms, to help create a culture of care. In the field of a culture of care, research shows that there needs to be a sense of school connectedness and caring and nurturing relationships between the teachers and the students so that there can be an increase in the students’ positive experiences of schooling and a movement away from zero-tolerance punishment strategies.[1]
I propose that up to 25 educators from a school or school district be invited to participate in Restorative Justice in Schools: Using Restorative Practices to Support a Culture of Care professional development training. This training consists of 16 modules. Each module would last 1.5 hours for a total of 24 hours of professional development training. Generally this training is offered over four consecutive days. This training will be facilitated as a training-the-trainers professional development training.
Participants will be asked to successfully complete the following 16 modules constituting that training. Following is a list of each module, a brief explanation of the content, and the research that supports the module. Also attached as Appendix A is the pedagogical model for the training.

1.     Relationships - Importance of relationships in Restorative Justice and Culture of Care.
Berryman, M., Macfarlane, S. & Cavanagh, T. (2009). Indigenous contexts for responding to challenging behaviours: Contrasting Western accountability and Maori restoration of harmony. International Journal of Restorative Justice, 5(1), 1-32.

2.     Basic principles – Restorative basics: It’s about attitude, doing school “with” students, inclusive relationships across the school, teachers positioning and theorizing; involving all staff.
Cavanagh, T. (2008). Schooling for happiness: Rethinking the aims of education. Kairaranga, 9(1). 20-23.

3.     Collegial relationships – Collegial relationships at work: Restorative tools are used to build and maintain a healthy community among leaders and staff.
Cavanagh, T. (2007). Focusing on relationships creates safety in schools. set: Research Information for Teachers, 1. 31-35.

4.     Teacher-student relationships – Restorative tools are used to build and maintain a healthy classroom community among teachers and students.
Cavanagh, T., Macfarlane, A., Glynn, T, and Macfarlane, S. (2010). Creating peaceful and effective schools through a continuity of caring relationships. A paper presented for the Peace Education Special Interest Group (SIG), Expanding the Vision, Theory, and Practice of Peace Education in Diverse Contexts session, at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado.

5.     Building capacity – Restorative language and conversations: Simple, non-adversarial, problem-solving conversations.
Cavanagh, T. (2009). Restorative practices in schools: Breaking the cycle of student involvement in child welfare and legal systems. Protecting Children, 24(4). 53-60.

6.     Restorative conversationsSimple, non-adversarial, problem-solving conversations.
Cavanagh, T. (2009). Creating schools of peace and nonviolence in a time of war and violence. Journal of School Violence, 8(1). 64-80.

7.     Community circles - A semi-formal tool to help teachers and students build connectedness and cooperation.
Cavanagh, T. (2009). Creating a new discourse of peace in schools: Restorative justice in education. Journal for Peace and Justice Studies, special issue on Restorative Justice, 18(1&2), 62-84.

8.     Restorative circles - A semi-formal tool to help teachers and students respond to wrongdoing and conflict as a group.
Cavanagh, T., Gaebler, F., & Zimmerman, T. (2008). Creating and maintaining a peaceful environment in elementary schools. Retrieved from

9.     Pre-conference – Pre-conference: Prepare students, staff, and parents so everyone knows the story of what happened before the conference, and they know the conference format.

10.  Conference – Restorative conferences: Formal conferences to address specific incidents of serious harm; facilitated by trained people.

11.  Agreement – Agreement: Specific plans to put right the harm that’s been done, including personalized ways for students to learn new skills/attitudes to avoid future trouble; allows for easy monitoring and follow up.

12.  Classroom conference circles – Classroom-conference circles: Structured problem solving circles for large group of students and their teachers.

13.  Brief restorative conversations for administrators, deans, and counselors – Brief restorative interventions: Referral-based problem solving tools for administrators, deans, and counselors.
Cavanagh, T. (2012). Building the capacity of students to be peaceful citizens by implementing a culture of care in schools. A paper presented at the Policy to Arts, Engaging K-12 Students in Peace Education Roundtable Session, hosted by the Peace Education Special Interest Group (SIG), at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, April 13, 2012.

14.  Brief restorative interventions for teachers and students – Brief restorative interventions: Problem solving tools for teachers and students.
Cavanagh, T. (2003). Schooling for Peace: Caring for our Children in School. Experiments in Education, 31(8). 139-143.

15.  Culturally sustainable restorative practices – Using Restorative Justice principles of building and maintaining relationships and exercising holistic care to create a Culture of Care.
Cavanagh, T., Macfarlane, A., Glynn, T. & Macfarlane, S. (2012). Creating peaceful and effective schools through a culture of care. Discourse, 33(3).

16.  Action plan – Using the process of Appreciative Inquiry, what steps could we take to move from where we are to where we could ideally be in creating a Culture of Care based on Restorative practices?
Patton, M. Q. (2003). Inquiry into appreciative evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 100 (Winter).

Participants will leave the training with the knowledge, skills, and resources to implement what is learned and also to teach others about what they have learned. In that way a professional learning community will be created in the Dinuba Unified School District focused on implementing restorative justice practices in classrooms in an effort to create a culture of care in schools throughout the school district.

Appendix A
Pedagogical model for Restorative Justice training

The model for facilitating this professional development training is the “wheel of learning,” created by Dr. Peter Senge and his colleagues in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook.  This method includes the process of reflecting, connecting, deciding, and doing.  The four areas constitute the different learning styles of adult learners.  The result of using this model is to reach each participant’s learning style.
            The reflecting stage gives the participant an overview and a big picture of what is to be learned.  Participants can then reflect on what this means to them.  In this stage the facilitator’s role is to motivate the learners to want to learn.  The learners may be utilizing personal reflections, writing, drawing, and discussion.
            The connecting stage of the process is the content area.  Learners are given the information pertinent to what is to be learned.  This step reflects traditional classroom learning.  In this stage the facilitator is the giver of information. The participants are involved in analyzing, clarifying, reasoning, connecting, and defining.
            In the deciding stage the learners are involved with a hands-on activity to apply what they learned.  The instructor assumes the role of coach and facilitator in this step.  The participants engage in demonstrating, field testing, and experimenting.
            The doing stage involves implementing the learning into daily life.  The learners are encouraged to apply their learning and report the results back later, at which time the “wheel of learning” will begin over.  The facilitator assumes the role of evaluator and remediator in this stage.  The participants are engaged in creating, sharing, implementing, and collaborating.

Senge, P.M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R. & Smith, B. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York, NY: Currency.

[1] Cavanagh (2009). Creating a new discourse of peace in schools: Restorative justice in education. Journal for Peace and Justice Studies, special issue on Restorative Justice, 18(1&2), 62-84.

Elementary school restorative practices curriculum

A restorative practices curriculum for elementary school aged students can be found at the link shown below. This curriculum was developed by my colleagues and I and tested in an elementary school over a period of years. We wanted the curriculum to be widely available to schools. If you have questions or concerns about the curriculum, please let me know.

Cavanagh, T., Gaebler, F., & Zimmerman, T. (2008). Creating and maintaining a
peaceful environment in elementary schools. Retrieved from

Mediation and Facilitation

My colleague and friend Beverly Title also asked that I share the white paper I wrote about mediation and facilitation, so here it is.

Mediation and Facilitation
Mediation and facilitation, particularly as those terms are used in a restorative justice context, are often confused. In this paper the intention is to clarify that, in fact, mediation and facilitation come out of two different backgrounds and serve two very different purposes. Based on Christie’s (1977) three major themes regarding an alternative way of thinking about conflicts, this paper explores mediation and facilitation in terms of personalization, participation, and professionalization.
            Mediation is a process based on Western notions of civil law. It is one of the alternative dispute resolution methods, probably the best known[1]. The purpose of mediation is to settle disputes that are based on facts and legal consequences. It usually involves monetary damages.
            A mediator is generally seen as an impartial third party who plays an active role in resolving a dispute between two or more parties. Mediators control the mediation process in order to ensure fairness. Mediation is generally preferred by parties to a lawsuit rather than going to court for a judge or jury to make a decision about negligence and award damages.
            Generally the advantages mediation offers consist of less time to resolve the matter because of large court caseloads; less costs, when you think in terms of attorney fees and court costs; a voice in selecting the mediator, with little or no voice in selecting a judge or jury; less risky; and greater confidentiality, since court proceedings generally are considered to be a public record.
            However, mediation does not address the human consequences of civil disputes. Nor does mediation involve healing the harm to relationships affected by the conflict or restoring harmony to the community and dignity to the individuals involved.
            The central question driving mediation is what does each party need to resolve the conflict. The work of the mediator then is to restate what people are saying in terms of needs, so that some form of compromise can be reached.
            Facilitation in this context is tied to restorative justice processes such as conferences. Because of its historical roots, it is culturally sensitive. It is based on criminal law and is considered to be a complimentary process to the legal system. The purpose of facilitation of restorative justice processes is to address the human consequences and feelings or emotions. Restorative justice is based on the idea of restoring harmony to the affected community and restoring dignity to the affected persons (persons harmed and persons causing the harm) by repairing or healing the harm, particularly to relationships.
            A facilitator assists a group of people with creating a structure or process to achieve the purpose of the gathering through a fair, open, and inclusive process. The facilitator does not control the process; rather, he or she ensures that the participants can talk with one another in a safe environment. Thus, the process belongs to the participants.
A facilitator plays an inactive role in the gathering (be it a conference, circle process, or some other restorative practice), other than creating the structure or process for full participation of all persons affected by the wrongdoing or conflict (including the persons harmed, the persons causing the harm and the affected community), promoting mutual respect and understanding and cultivating shared responsibility for the structure and process. In this way solutions include everyone and agreements reached are achievable and meaningful.
The central question underlying restorative practices is how can we heal the harm (particularly to relationships) resulting from the wrongdoing or conflict? This question is addressed as part of the face-to-face meeting of persons harmed, persons causing the harm, and the affected community in a safe environment.
Restorative justice involves wrongdoing and conflict. In this context wrongdoing involves any breach of a person’s right to freedom from harm or the threat of harm and freedom to be who and what they are. Conflict in this context is interpersonal and involves all those persons and communities harmed by an event, particularly involving harm to relationships.
            However, Christie’s (1977) description of conflicts goes to the heart of the difference between mediation of disputes and facilitation of restorative justice conferences as a response to wrongdoing and conflict. In these conference processes control of the conflict is taken away from the professionals (lawyers, judges, and mediators) and returned to the persons directly affected. In this instance restorative justice is about restoring the right of these persons to participate in a conflict that belongs to them.
            This idea is particularly important in criminal matters. While civil cases are captioned in terms of one party versus another, criminal cases are captioned in terms of the state, crown, or government versus the offender. In this way the person harmed or victim has no right to participation and becomes a non-entity, without a voice.
            Mediation in a legal context refers to disputes and dispute resolution.  In that sense dispute refers to claims or rights over which a lawsuit may be filed. Such a proceedings involves claims or rights between two or more parties involved in a legal proceeding. Unresolved claims or rights are usually resolved in mediation, arbitration, or in the courts.
Importantly, the expert in mediations is the mediator (required to be an attorney in some jurisdictions). Participation in mediation by those most directly concerned with the dispute is controlled by the mediator. Thus, while persons involved in the dispute are allowed to participate, their participation is limited by the mediator in charge of the mediation process and the lawyers (trained to be experts in minimizing and eliminating conflicts), who normally represent participants in mediation as parties to the lawsuit being resolved outside of the court setting. The legal system and court processes generally regulate mediation processes and as a result support the professionalization of alternative dispute resolution by mediators and attorneys.
The historical background for mediation and facilitation is important to understanding the differences between the two processes. Up until the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066 AD by William, Duke of Normandy (commonly called “William the Conqueror”), people responded to wrongdoing and conflict in a manner that we would now label restorative justice (Van Ness, 1986). So the restorative justice model has served humanity throughout most of its history (Braithwaite, 1998).
After the successful conquest of England, William the Conqueror sought a means of paying for the high cost of engaging in battle. He evidently reasoned if he could take control of the restorative justice model and place himself in the position of the one bringing the legal action rather than the persons harmed, he could then levy fines on persons causing the harm and raise the required monies. In that way courts were created and criminal cases were titled as the King or Crown versus the offending individual. To this day criminal court cases are similarly captioned.
These events resulted in the creation of the western legal system and English common law as much of the western world presently knows it. Mediation is part of this system. Today the dominant way of responding to crime in the western world is based on depersonalisation of the persons affected by the crime, limited participation of those individuals through representation by experts (lawyers), and professionalization of how crime is responded to by creating an exclusive group of individuals (lawyers and judges, who must be attorneys) who control the legal system.
Western social systems tend to avoid or discourage conflicts, rather than recognize conflicts are an inevitable part of building and maintaining healthy relationships. Alternatively, rather than trying to eliminate conflict, restorative justice practitioners believe people should be concerned with how to respond to conflict.
People participate in mediation according to their role (mediator, lawyer, party to a lawsuit). In restorative justice people are respected as whole persons and are not segregated by their role or other attributes, such as sex, ethnicity, physical or mental ability, or socio-economic status.
As Western social systems become more and more dehumanised and depersonalised, people are less and less tolerant of conflict and seek to avoid or eliminate conflict (i.e., zero tolerance, getting tough on crime, etc.). At the same time people have become less concerned with wrongdoing in terms of harm to the dignity of individuals and communities (i.e., rarely are lawsuits brought for libel or slander). As a result some crimes, traditionally at least, were made invisible, such as private matters (i.e, incest, spousal abuse, and family violence) and cases involving large corporations causing harm to vulnerable individuals.
Restorative practices allows for the personal meeting of all individuals affected by the events of wrongdoing or conflict. In this way the events cannot be dehumanised or depersonalised. Offenders see whom they have harmed and how they have caused harm, rather than seeing themselves as victims of an unjust and unfair legal system.
Western legal systems have removed the right of participation of persons harmed by wrongdoing and conflict (victims). In a restorative justice context conflicts are seen to be opportunities for people to exercise their right to participate in the conflict. This right goes to the heart of the meaning of participatory democracy.
Professionals (lawyers, judges, mediators, and arbitrators) have professionalised the response to wrongdoing and conflict. In addition, these experts have failed their responsibility to build the capacity of individuals and communities most directly affected to become the experts in how to respond to wrongdoing and conflict non-violently.
            Restorative practices allow for a meeting of people who are equals in that they do not come together with status because of their roles or power. From this group of equals comes the solution for how to restore the dignity of the individuals involved and harmony to the community.
            In summary, the purpose of mediation and facilitation and the roles of mediators and facilitators should not be confused. Mediation and facilitation come from different traditions and are based on quite different principles. As a result, one cannot assume because a person is a good mediator they will necessarily be a good facilitator, and vice versa. They key idea is individuals involved in mediation and facilitation need to be consciously aware of the differences in purposes and roles between the two processes.

Braithwaite, J. (1998). Restorative justice. In M. Tonry (Ed.), The handbook of crime and punishment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Christie, N. (1977). Conflicts as property. British Journal of Criminology, 17(1), 1-15.

Van Ness, D. (1986). Crime and its victims: What can we do. Downers Grove IL: Intervarsity Press.

[1] Other forms of alternative dispute resolution are arbitration and negotiation.